Health officials are concerned at the emergence of new COVID-19 variants that spread much more easily than the earlier virus strain.
“These new variants present a serious threat and a complicating factor when it comes to relaxing restrictions,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro at Monday’s COVID update.
So far, 20 cases have been detected of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom and five cases of the variant first identified in South Africa.
Almost all of the cases have been directly linked to international travel.
“However, one case of the UK variant has not, so far, been linked to travel,” said Shandro. “This means it may have entered the broader community.
“Let me be blunt, this now is very concerning.”
While there is no conclusive evidence that the variants cause more serious illness or increase the risk of death they do spread more easily with an infection rate 30 to 50 per cent higher than the strain that first emerged.
England and Ireland have both seen the variant spread rapidly and they saw sharp increases in cases and hospitalizations, which triggered strick lockdown measures.
“So far, Canada has not seen these variants spreading in large numbers but that might be changing,” said Shandro.
The UK variant has been identified at an Ontario long-term care facility, where more than 200 residents and staff get infected in a few weeks and more than 30 have died.
Shandro said health experts have projected that if the variants become the dominant strain in Alberta the province could see more than 10,200 new daily cases, compared with the 2,200 cases expected with the original virus if there were 250 cases to start with and no health measures to check its growth.
Hospitalizations could grow to 3,611 over eight weeks in the variant spreads unchecked, compared with 1,073 under the current COVID virus.
Up to 800 patients could be in ICU compared with 200 with the original COVID stream.
The projections are only what could happen if no health measures are in place, he said.
In the last 24 hours, 25 Albertans, including a 100-year-old, have died from COVID-19.
None of those who died, who ranged in age from 41 to 100 years old, were in Central zone.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said in her daily update on Monday that 362 new COVID cases have been identified and 7,200 tests done in the last 24 hours.
There are 637 people in hospital and 113 in intensive care.
In the education system, 259 schools are on active alert and nine are at outbreak status. There are about 500 cases among school children.
Shandro also emphasized how important it is for Canada to begin getting more vaccine soon. Canada is not getting any Pfizer vaccine this week and next week’s shipment has been cut by 78 per cent, he said.
That means Canada is falling behind other nations in vaccinating its residents. Only about two per cent of Canadians have been vaccinated, compared with six per cent in the U.S., more than 10 per cent in the UK and more than 40 per cent in Israel.
There are currently 9,337 active cases of the virus in the province. A total of 1,574 Albertans have died due to COVID-19.
The City of Red Deer now has 159 active cases, according to geospatial mapping on the provincial government’s website.
Meanwhile, Red Deer County has 32 active cases, Clearwater County has 79, Mountain View County has 22, the Town of Olds has 12, the City of Lacombe has 20, Lacombe County has 25, Sylvan Lake has 26 and Stettler County has five. Collectively, Ponoka County, Wetaskiwin County and the City of Wetaskiwin have 275 active cases.